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MWC Assembly team drawing lessons from the Olympics

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Registration for Mennonite World Conference’s Global Assembly 2022 held in Semarang, Indonesia, July 5-10, 2022, will open in December 2021. Plans for the every-six-year event include worship, workshops, storytelling, an art exhibit, soccer and church visits.

As the Indonesia 2022 planning team continues their preparations, they look to a recent global gathering for guidance.

Despite grave concerns, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics took place in 2021 and gave the world memorable stories of togetherness. From high jumpers Mutaz Essa Barshim (Qatar) and Gianmarco Tamberi (Italy) agreeing to end the jump-off and share the gold medal, to Isaiah Jewett (U.S.) helping Nijel Amos (Botswana) to get up and finish the race together after they fell in the 800-metre, to the global outpouring of support for Simone Biles’ (U.S.) withdrawal from gymnastics competition to focus on her mental health—they gave respite to a world weary of social isolation.

“Through the Olympics, we are reminded of the joy of coming together,” MWC chief international events officer Liesa Unger says. “Yet the Olympics also shows us the challenge of offering a safe place to meet and an equitable opportunity for people from around the world to attend,” Unger says, noting that access to COVID-19 vaccination remains an issue in many countries.

“The decision to go ahead with the Olympics, and the extra precautions that were put in place, were not without risks and controversies,” Unger says. “We are drawing lessons from them. We are closely monitoring the situation in Indonesia and are ready to create a safe environment to meet. Should that not be possible, we are prepared to pull off an exciting online event.”

Anita Purwidaningsih, one of Indonesia’s Global Youth Summit (GYS) delegates to the Assembly in Pennsylvania 2015, says, “I still pray that Indonesia will be a safe place to visit so we can worship God together, in person and celebrate God’s work through our diversity.”

But she also prays that whatever the format is, the joy of being in fellowship with each other remains. In the meantime, Purwidaningsih keeps herself connected to her global Anabaptist family by collecting songs from around the world for Assembly’s worship services and coordinating translation of the Assembly songbook into Indonesian.

Marc Pasqués, one of the Young Anabaptist speakers at the Assembly in Pennsylvania 2015, says, “As a sportsperson myself, I know first-hand the efforts athletes have to go through, from adhering to very strict health protocols to competing for the cameras instead of the spectators. However, this unique situation has highlighted their friendship, solidarity and humanity more so than before; we will remember these moments long after the event is over.”

“I’d certainly come to Indonesia 2022 if travel restrictions are lifted,” Pasques says. “Otherwise I will join the virtual conference which I still think will be a great event. Having an online option will give people who couldn’t travel the opportunity to participate in an active way. Assembly is a life-changing event that is almost impossible to verbalize …. You just have to experience it!”

Unger affirms that just like Tokyo 2020 finally took place in 2021, Assembly will happen in 2022.

“We are trusting that God’s glory will be revealed despite the format,” she says. “I have no doubt that Indonesia 2022 will continue to be the eye-opening life-changing experience that every Assembly has always been.”

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